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Leader Launches the "Democratization of Fitness"



New Yorker Nancy Bruning is a certified personal trainer. She also has a master’s degree in public health.

But she’s made it her mission to convince people they don’t need any of those things to get healthy — and she wants to train others to run their own fitness groups, starting in the parks in her hometown.

“I really feel that people don’t need to have a lot of certification and a lot of things that people feel like they need to have,” Bruning says. “Basically, I want to help people have a walking group that’s kind of fancy. And it’s as simple as that.”

Bruning calls her idea the “democratization of fitness.”

Here’s how it works. Bruning teaches an outdoor fitness routine — which she has dubbed “Nancercize” — to a group of people. The routines are easy-to-do, incorporating calisthenics, yoga, martial arts and dance. The only equipment needed is a typical park bench.

Those people then gather family and friends and lead them in the outdoor workouts, which can be easily adjusted to suit people’s individual needs. Soon, new people would be using their surroundings to be more physically active, a social activity that doesn’t require paying a hefty gym membership.

Anybody can start their own group. All that’s needed is some open space and a park bench.

“You can be your own trainer, and you can have your own little group. It doesn’t have to be a fancy schmancy thing,” Bruning says.

Bruning’s interest in getting people active via public parks brings her own relationship with physical activity full circle.

She grew up playing outside on the streets of New York, playing tag, jumping rope and pretending to tap dance like Shirley Temple. But by the time she reached high school, Bruning wasn’t interested in working out, especially during gym class.

“We had to wear these horrible clothes and do these horrible things that I would hate to do,” she recalls, laughing.

She started working out more in her 20s, when she discovered yoga and began hitting the gym.

Then at 30, Bruning was diagnosed with breast cancer. She beat the disease, she believes in part because she continued being physically active. “I kept doing that as much as I could throughout my therapy, and I realized, ‘This is really helping me,’” she recalls.

Bruning’s bout with cancer inspired her to learn more about health. She went back to school to get her master’s degree, and wrote a book about weight loss. (She’s since written several books on health).

It was during that time that Bruning realized environments play a major role in determining whether people are healthy.

As it so happened, Bruning also was president of a nonprofit group supporting Fort Tryon park in Manhattan. That’s when she had an “a-ha moment.”

“I kind of gravitated toward parks as a good way to get your exercise,” Bruning says. “I thought, ‘My God, these parks! We don’t need to build anymore health clubs.’”

Working with the program director of the New York City parks department, Bruning launched a pilot program designed to get kids exercising in parks. Although it lasted only about eight weeks, Bruning says it was “phenomenally successful,” as 50 people showed up every day to take exercise classes in the park.

After the program concluded, Bruning decided to put all her training together and came up with “Nancerize,” offering one-on-one and group classes to clients to help them workout in outdoor spaces.

With years of Nancerizing behind her, Bruning now is aiming to spread the word.

Bruning is planning a trip to the west coast, where she expects to teach people how to begin outdoor fitness groups in their communities. A video Bruning’s routine is available online for people to view and teach themselves. She also hopes to launch webinars and other distance learning courses in the future to reach people across the country.

“It’s really not rocket science… we’re just paying attention to the body to see what you can do,” she says.

Click here to connect with Nancy Bruning.